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Can small children and parrots get along?

Expert Question

I just learned that I am pregnant and I am now worried about my Galah having to live a compromised life because of this change in our family situation.  Does it work having children and parrots throughout their life?  My Galah is a very cherished family member and and I feel he has just as much right as any family member to a good life.

Thanks, Nicole-

Expert Answer

Hi Nicole, Congratulations on your pregnancy and all best wishes for the upcoming months.

There are plenty of ways to ensure that your Galah and human child each have full lives, most of which depend entirely upon you. In many ways, the lifelong commitments we make to our parrot companions are similar to those we make to children. Soon, you'll have two dependents rather than one.

It's well proven that humans and parrots can live companionably for lifetimes, and chances are, your parrot will remain with you even after your child grows up and flies away to his/her own flock. Remember to remain dedicated to the long view and don't let momentary fits interrupt the big picture.

One great aspect to your situation is your parrot's species, Galah. I call these "huge flock parrots" because they live with many, many others, so they naturally like a lot of company. I hope your Galah has more than one person with whom he's friendly, as this person's importance in his life will increase once the human baby comes. Our 29-year old Galah, Nikki, is terrifically friendly. She lets all the other parrots hang out inside her cage where they eat her food, play with her toys and mess up her space, all without a quibble from Nikki. She is first to volunteer to meet new people and performs for any audience. Chances are, your Galah also has several friends and admirers, so enlist them now in your efforts.

In order to prepare your Galah for the upcoming events, begin to make key enriching adjustments to his environment as soon as you can.

Begin by bringing your Galah in to conversations and the excitement about the baby -- show him the nursery, baby toys, clothes and so on. When you decide upon a name, use it in conversations with him. Include pictures and videos of babies so he is familiar with the phenomena, noises, movements and so on. Really! Our parrots love watching videos, so show him some of crying babies and see how he reacts. If you have a baby shower, let your friends know that parrot goodies are welcome gifts. You'll feel well-prepared if you have parrot enrichment activities on hand that he can have after the baby comes.

Incorporate more than one cage (sleeping area) into his repertoire so he is comfortable sleeping in a couple of locations. This way, if the baby is fussy at night, only you suffer from sleep deprivation, not the parrot. Lots of our adult parrots enjoy sleeping, once in a while, in a large carrier which has a thick soft rug on the bottom. We've accustomed them to "camping out" like this in case of emergencies and they seem well-rested and ready-to-go the next morning.

Ditto active play areas and hang-out places -- more is better in this case. Try to have a perch or gym where he can watch you rock, feed or bathe the baby in case he wants to watch. Also, create some spaces for him away from these activities for the times he wants to do parrot-centric things. As in so many situations regarding parrot happiness in captivity, space planning and allocation are key. The more areas he can be a parrot who enjoys living with humans, the greater your chances of mutual happiness and long-term contentment.

Some places for parrots are really simple yet effective: Nikki loves to sit on top of a securely-weighted vertical paper towel roll dispenser. sometimes she chews the paper towels a little, but mostly she just hangs out on top of the roll. These area ready-made parrot spaces in our bathrooms, kitchen, laundry room and so on.

Our all-time favorite parrot places are nice-sized baskets with flat bottoms and handles. You may need to weight the basket bottoms to stabilize them and the cover the bottoms with newspapers or paper towels for easy clean-up. If the handles are skimpy, cover with tightly wound cotton rope. Parrot baskets are invaluable and many of our friends say their parrots use the same baskets for decades. Easily placed in several rooms or moved from room to room, parrot baskets are indispensable counter- and table-top perches.

The reason for multiple places and enrichment activities is to encourage your Galah to demonstrate a variety of interests and skills. The more observable behaviors he shows you in a variety of locations, the better for a busy mom and growing baby.

I'm a believer in parrots having jobs that they enjoy and are good at. One of Nikki's jobs is preening herself which she's turned in to an art form. She uses several tools (hanging toys) to scratch her head and scrub her back. Try setting up your Galah with some toys he can use as self-soothers. Nikki is also really, really good at untying tightly knotted rawhide shoelaces. I make multi-legged knotted-up spiders out of rawhide shoelaces and she spends hours untangling the knots and preening the strands. I've yet to make a knot she cannot, over time, untie. Perhaps your Galah has similar talents?

During the upcoming months, learn all you can about him as an individual -- track his progress as carefully as you track your pregnancy. Observe what he loves doing best, what he's already good at doing (dancing? climbing? swinging? hopping?) and create opportunities that encourage time on task. If he's a dancer (most cockatoos are!), have him dance in the kitchen, in the family room, on this perch or this gym, in the shower, for visitors, on the sofa, on top of the 'frig, wherever and whenever. The more actions he's good at performing -- the more he acts like a real parrot -- the better! Also, note his normal nap and quiet times. Nikki tends to sleep later in the morning than our other parrots do; she rouses for breakfast then takes a mid-morning nap. She's active with her jobs in the afternoon and works into the early evening. She'll often stay up way past her normal bedtime if given the opportunity (hence the tendency to sleep in). So, notice your Galah's natural schedule and use his propensities to your mutual advantage.

My advice about introducing your Galah and your baby to each other is to listen to your motherly instincts and don't do anything you are not 110% comfortable doing. You want his first observations of the baby to be brief and calm: short and sweet and from a safe comfortable distance. Have him on your hand or arm and if you feel his body weight rear back, take a step backwards. The more non-eventful observations he has of the baby prior to interaction, the better. Don't put any pressure on him to "like" the baby or understand the baby right away. First, from a comfortable distance, he'll need to watch the baby; then he'll need to watch some more; then he'll need to watch some more. Days, weeks, months. Give him gentle verbal reinforcement for just watching. When the baby moves and he raises his crest, calmly acknowledge his reaction. He should have an escape route available to him so if he wants to go elsewhere, he can. Or, a basket nearby (or further away) where he's comfortable watching you and the baby together. If this doesn't happen right away, don't worry. It might take a while.

He and the child might not get along for several years -- perhaps longer—and this needs to be OK with you and other family members and close friends. Babies and parrots don't often become friendly in the ways that adults and parrots do, so keep this in mind. As the days, weeks and months go by, continue to reach out for help and advice. So many things can happen! It won't be surprising if you need help and support, so ask for what your family/flock needs.

Resist the urge to create rosy-colored scenarios in your imagination where the parrot befriends the baby and they coo and cuddle together. Instead, see yourself happily managing and loving two different but important vital life forces, both of whom you've accepted in to your life.

Good luck, Phoebe-

Phoebe Green Linden
About Phoebe Green Linden

In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa Barbara Bird Farm. 20 years of dedicated observations and avid learning have formed her opinions surrounding psittacine neonates, neophytes, fledglings and adults who benefit markedly from thoughtfully arranged environments. She and Harry include boxes, playgyms, cages, aviaries and agreed-upon furniture and counter surfaces for parrot activities. There are no spaces in their home or on their property untouched by parrot dander.

During the years they raised parrots for the pet trade (they no longer do, since 2001) and continuing through today, they have dedicated themselves to developing environments that increase observable natural behaviours such as exercising, interacting, foraging for foods, touching, preening, flapping, flying, showering, mulch-making, wild bird watching, helping with chores, and goofing off—not always seen in captive birds. Their experiences are happily shared with World Parrot Trust members with the objective to foster enrichment for captive psittacines and their caregivers.